Welcome Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Welcome Lords, Ladies and Gentlefolk.

This blog will be devoted to my literary and cosplay interests and stories set in my own alternative historical steampunk background. I hope people enjoy the stories, as much as I enjoy devising and writing them and that it stimulates their own artistic interests, entertains them or if nothing else fires their own imaginations.

A special note to new readers of this blog, the entries "Nation States" are gazetteers of the nations as they exist in the An Age of Steam, Steel and Iron background, each with a few remarks/observations about each nation as they exist within. Any post headed by the title containing the words "Story Snippet" or "Fragments" is a stand alone, snapshot of the background, they will be developed into fuller stories in future, but at present they serve to give the viewer/reader a measure of what this world is like, what is going on in it and who some of the players are. Full stories, will be headed by their title and a roman number, as they will generally be in several parts.

Comments, suggestions or remarks by readers are welcomed.

I would like to thank the following people:

Yaya Han, for getting me seriously interested in cosplay at a time when things were looking very glum for me back in 2006 with several extended stays in hospital due to illness, and motivating me to get actively involved.

Ashley Du aka UndeadDu, for her unfailing friendship and cheerful support since we first met in 2014 at the Hamilton Comic Con, and for being my Cosplay mentor and advisor.

Sara Marly, for her interest in and support for my writings, since we first met in 2016 at the Hamilton Comic Con and incidently helping me make up my mind to finally do this.

Stephen Thomson, my friend, for his advise and assistance with creating and setting up this blog.

Daniel Cote, my friend and co-worker for his advise and friendship over the years.

The People of the The Aegy's Gathering (particularly Jonathan Cresswell-Jones, Scott Washburn and Jenny Dolfen, all of whom I have kept in contact with over the years), who were brought together in friendship by a certain randomness of chance and a common interest in the Honor Harrington books and stayed together despite distance and the strains of life.

The People of the Wesworld Alternative History website, who gave me the opportunity to sharpen my writing and story telling skills while directing the affairs of Lithuania and briefly France during their 1930s timelines.

My parents Mary Ellen (1946 - 2019) and Logan, my siblings Adam and Danika and various friends both online and at work and play for putting up with me, encouraging and supporting me both in the very good times and the very bad times.

I remain as always yours very sincerely, your obedient servant, Matthew Baird aka Sir Leopold Stanley Worthing-Topper

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Fragments from East Asia (Part III)

The Imperial City, the City of Peking, China, the Great Qing Empire, January 1889.

The young emperor took another long sip of his tea, then reached for another document before him. This concerned the security of the Paracel islands and the Pratas island, know to the Great Qing Empire as the Xisha islands and Tungsha island respectively. They were little more then collections of sand, coral and rock. In and of themselves, they were hardly very attractive or even valuable territory, unless one considered their relative positions in the South China Sea, then they became very important as outposts for both military and commercial purposes for whatever power possessed them.

The French had, in point of fact, made serious attempts to seize these islands during the Sino-French War of 1884-85, though they had been sufficiently fortified and garrisoned by both the Ming and Qing Dynasties over the last two centuries to fend off any attempt to take them short of a full scale invasion. The French Marine Nationale squadrons based in French Indo-China had not been able to attempt this given their considerable committments to operations in the Gulf of Tonkin, the invasion of the island of Hainan and their wide-ranging coastal or airel bombardments of the provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan. French naval deployments had been further constrained by their intensive efforts to contain or bring to action, the two southern most of the four seagoing Qing Imperial Fleets, the Fukien and Kwangtung Fleets and the Vampire Riverine Fleet which had acted in a supporting coastal defense role during the war.

That was not to say, that the French had not tried to take them, even with limited forces. Both islands had been heavily bombarded by air and by sea, several times during the war, to try rendering them unusable by Qing Naval forces. Two serious attempts to take the Xisha Islands had been mounted although both failed by the narrowest of margins. While at least one attempt had been made on Tungsha island, which had ended in complete disaster for the French.

When the next Sino-French War came, the French would make a much more practical effort to seize the Xisha and Tungsha islands to secure their naval flank against operations by the rebuilt Fukien and Kwangtung fleets (which had both been largely destroyed by the French during the 1884-85 war). This, it was felt by the Qing Imperial Admiralty and by both Qing military and diplomatic intelligence services, would be the French naval prelude to actually going to war. Whether the French military forces in Indo-China would then turn their main effort to invading Laos and Siam or against China, was hotly debated however.

Few believed that the French would be mad or arrogant enough to attempt offensive wars against both Siam, Laos and China at the same time. It was reasonable to assume that they would go on the offensive on single front rather then three, while holding to the defensive on the others. Once, the offensive front had been decided satisfactorially, then and only then, would the French assume an offensive posture on the defensive fronts. The prevailing wisdom in both Siam and Laos and in the Qing Empire, was the French would strike on their western front first and concentrate it's initial effort on Laos and render the kingdom hors de combat as the French military expression went, as quickly as possible before China or Siam had time to intervene.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Fragments from East Asia (Part II)

The Winter Palace, the City of Peking, China, the Great Qing Empire, January 1889.

The foreign ministers, diplomats and other technical or governmental experts and officials intended to have a final meeting in Nagasaki in Febuary to finalize all the details and have the principal articles of the association treaty ready for signature by the eight governments. With the permanent chairman, already selected and the finances of the association partially settled, the main issue was the formation of the other association committees that were deemed necessary.

The Permanent Security Committee had been provisionally worked out with both China and Japan, as the senior co-chairs, with Siam as the Deputy Chair. While both the two empires had the largest air, naval and ground forces of the eight nations, Siam was a significant regional military power, in it's own right, in all three areas. Laos, was also significant as a land and air power but unlike all the other nations in the proposed association, it was completely land-locked and only had a small but useful riverine navy, rather then a seagoing one. Hawai'i, like Siam had a good mix of air, naval and land strength to add to the association's overall military power, while Tonga, Brunei and Samoa had decent sized air and naval power for their respective sizes and resources with adequate but not overly large land forces, which in fairness they had not needed before now.

The other committees deemed important enought to be formered were, the Directing Committee composed of the eight heads-of-states, their senior governmental ministers (or their designated representatives) which would decide the association's general policies; The Trade and Tariffs Committee, which would determine and regulate trade agreements between the eight states. The Legal and Legislative Committee, which would work out the legal or administrative frame works of policies set by the Directing Committee and the Trade and Tariffs Committee. The Intelligence Committee, which was to pool, evaluate and share civil and military intelligence and espionage or counter-espionage information between the eight states. The last committee deemed essential was, the Financial Committee, which would handle the association bank and work with existing financial cartels and banking institutions within each state with a view to collabrotive financial exchanges and projects.

The two emperors, the sultan, and the five kings were scheduled to meet in Nagasaki and sign the Treaty of Nagasaki into fact, in April, if the proposed association's political, administrative, economic and military details were tidied up and finished as quickly as was expected. He had to confess that he was actually looked forward to the trip, which would be his first outside the territorial boundaries of the Qing Empire. The meeting was to be an important but relatively low key affair, as the emphasis was on the treaty and effecting better relations between the eight states not on an excess of pomp and ceremony, which would only be a needless distraction. It would also only draw unwelcome and unwanted foreign attention especially from the various consulates in Nagasaki upon the event, which would undoubtablely ring violent alarm bells in all the governments and chancellories of the Great Powers, with the exception of Austria-Hungary.

The young emperor had to admit, that the likely aghast expressions of the governments and diplomatic corps of Great Britain, France and Russia especially amused him, when he considered the matter. Though he also soberly realized that the announcement of the Treaty of Nagasaki, would have serious political (and perhaps military) repercussions as well, which was not amusing to dwell upon. It was not to be doubted that the eight nations would recieve a barrage of diplomatic notes and questions, the moment the Great Powers heard about the treaty.

As far as any of the diplomatic or intelligence services of the eight nations had been able to determine, none of the Great Powers were in fact aware of the association discussions, save Austria-Hungary. The Austrians had been quietly sounded out about the idea, as they had a wealth of historical experience on dealing with various political, economic and administrative systems under the roof of one agency. The Austrians had been most helpful and played their involvement in the discussions close to their chest throughout, not even discussing the matter with their German or Italian allies. When the idea of an association bank had been raised with them, the Austrians had offered to find, very quietly, a suitable candidate to act as the bank's first director, they had felt a qualified person either in the Swiss or Austrian financial institutions could be found that would suit the future association's needs.

The post would require someone of high personal integrity, political neutrality, diplomatic finesse, administrative ability and a thorough knowledge of international banking systems and procedures. An alternative candidate from perhaps one of the more prominent New York financial institutions might also suffice as, the United States held (for the present anyway), a generally very neutral, business like attitude to most of the eight nations involved. The Samoans and Hawaiians however were unlikely to agree to this, later option, given the United States's previous involvement in their national affairs in the past, usually to the two kingdoms detriment and with a view to the Americans sole advantage.

As there were few currently amoung the finacial institutions of the eight nations, who had this kind of experience on the scale required for the Bank of the Association, it was felt that a qualified and capabable foreigner was essential to establish the bank's smooth internal operations and public creditablity. It would also head off arguments between the eight states if one of their own, was to hold the position, which would immediately cause problems and claims of one nation being favoured over the others when it came to bank services and loans. The Austrian legation minister to the Empire of Japan, had promised to locate, evaluate and bring any career and personal files conserning possible candidates to the next meeting in Nagasaki, so that the Association members could examine them and properly debate the merits of a final choice in the matter, which had been welcomed by all eight nations representatives.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Fragments from East Asia (Part I)

The Winter Palace, the City of Peking, China, the Great Qing Empire, January 1889.

The Guangxu Emperor, His Imperial Majesty, the Son of Heaven, Prince Zaitian of the Imperial Manchu Aisin-Gioro Clan, and the 10th Emperor of the Qing Dynasty; sat at his desk within the complex of private apartments, chambers and rooms reserved solely for the imperial master of the Great Qing Empire, inside the Forbidden City, the Imperial Winter Palace and Residence of the Emperors of China. The massive palace complex akin to a city within a city, encircled within it's own massive compound of walls and gates, called the Imperial City, which sprawled across and dominated the center of the city of Peking. He reached for the cup of green tea, that rested near at hand, as he studied the various documents that lay before him, and made notations in his diary.

His primary concern at the moment, was foreign intervention in Chinese affairs, particularly interventions by France, with it's considerable colonial possessions in French Indo-china. The last significant wars between China and France had been in 1882 and 1884-85, in which France had secured it's hold over the tributary states of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin-china and consolidated them with Cambodia, to augment their considerable East Asian colonial empire. A massive anti-French revolt in 1886 in Annam had not significantly altered this situation, however much it had alarmed the French adminstration at the time. Another war between China and France was, in and of it self only a matter of time, and probably it would happen sooner rather then later. France, rebuilding after the disasters of the Franco-German War of 1881-82 and desperate for colonial or economic successes to restore it's damaged pride, was putting enormous pressure upon the Kingdom of Laos to accept a French protectorate, which would effectively annex them into the Republic of France's colonial domains.

The Kingdom of Siam would immediately declare war upon France, if this happened. Siam was caught in a stratgic vice formed by the British and French empires pressure to come within their respective spheres of influence and if Laos fell, Siam's freedom to manover both politically and economically as well as militarily between and separately of the two Great Powers, would be severely compromised. Brunei and Tonga, were under the same steady pressure from Great Britain to accept protectorates, though they had so far stood firm and maintained their own soveriegnty, but the pressure was still there, and Brunei might in the future fall. They had at least the advantage that the Austrian and German Empire's who both had territory in the island of Borneo regarded this development with considerable distrust and had moved to quitely support the Sultan in resisting, British economic and political pressure. Samoa, still in the throes of a civil war was stabalizing but with several Great Powers interested in the outcome, preferably to their exclusive benefit, that could not be expected to continue in a reasonable way for Samoa.

Along the long border ranging between China and British India and Burma, stood the independent nations of Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. To the Imperial Qing Dynasty, the four nations were an irritant, especially their continued independence which was intolerable to the imperial government. The young emperor chose however to see them differently, and that was as a most effective barrier against further British encroachment from that direction, as their fierce independence and their considerable success in crushing any military expeditions mounted upon them from either side of their borders, made them even bigger irritants to the British Vice-Roys of India and the British government in London!

The Russian Empire's aspirations in East Asia, had for the time being been forstalled, especially in regard to China's western and northern most provinces and for the present, they accepted the semi-independence of Outer Mongolia as a useful if nominal buffer state rather then moving to annex it outright, which would provoke a war the Russians did not need at present with both China and Japan. With Russian attention elsewhere for the time being, China could breath for a bit in that direction, although not restfully, the eighteen year old emperor reflected silently. Russian eyes and aspirations were for the moment turned to their western and southwestern borders, and the majority of the European Great Powers were welcome to it, as far as the emperor and his officials were concerned.

Similarly, Great Britain and Portugal were satisfied with their enclaves in Macao and Hong Kong, as were the other Great Powers with equal access to establishing trade concessions within the Treaty Ports of Tientsin and Shanghai and conducting a vigourous and prosperous trade with China. Portugal, in point of fact, while not adverse to colonial expansionism at any time in it's history of trade and exploration, was not in a position to do so. Portugal, had sufficient problems just holding on to what they already had in the Atlantic, India and the East Indies against some of the other European Great Powers. Great Britain, was more worrying to his mind, as historically it was not adverse to acquiring territory anywhere it could to secure either it's economic dominance in a region or to protect territory it had already seized or otherwise obtained. Both he and his immediate predecessor, the Tongzhi Emperor, had carried out a steady policy of extensive reforms and internal improvements that had greatly benefitted China, and also allowed his government to reverse or discard many of the detested Unequal Treaties, that the Qing Dynasty's previous emperors had been forced to agree to following various unsuccessful wars or conflicts of interest with the various Great Powers.

Of the Great Powers, only Austria could be considered a genuine friend by China or indeed many of the other seven states. The Austrians were purely interested in trade with China, their own colonial ambitions were very modest compared to the other Great Powers and they had what they both needed for purposes of trade and status and had little desire or even interest to acquire more. Further the Austrians were as a rule willing to work together with the Chinese government on trade and economic terms that were generally acceptable to both parties and profitable for both in the long term, as well as the short term. This was most unlike many of the other Great Powers, which desired to control trade with China to their exclusive benefit. The Emperor suspected that the Austrians felt a good deal of sympathy for the Qing, the Habsburgs themselves had once ruled an empire, that covered a great deal of the known world which had reached it's zenith under the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and then watched other Great Powers steadily chip away at it til it was little more then a memory of better days.

He considered again the idea, that had been put forth by the King of Hawai'i, of forming an east asian/pacific association or league of nations, which excluded the Western colonial powers. Principally, the Empires of China and Japan, the Kingdoms of Hawai'i, Siam, Laos, Tonga and Samoa, and the Sultanate of Brunei. All eight nations were under the threat of political, economic or territorial encroachment by one or more of the European Great Powers, so pooling their military and economic resources to counter the outsider encroachment in a constructive way could only be beneficial to all of them. The foreign ministers and embassy officials of the various countries he had just named had begun serious if unoffical discussion of the idea early last year. The King of Hawai'i had actually originally prosposed the idea some twenty years earlier but because of real conflicts of interest and fierce competition between some of the nations necessary to make it a functioning reality, as well as the hostile reaction of many of the Great Powers, the idea had to be dropped. That said, the idea had never entirely been abandoned, either by the Hawaiian king or by supporters within the other seven nations, for it made good sense whatever the practical difficulties.

It had been decided in a series of highly unoffical and secret "round table" meetings, after much discussion and considerable argument it had to be said, to make the association of east asian nations into an economic and political block, with the King of Hawai'i as the permanent chairman. This dealt with concerns that had been raised, that China or Japan would use the position of chairman to dominate the association for their own sole benefit and in effect make the other member states effectively political and economic vassals of one or the other empires. China and Japan as the two most significant military powers amoung the eight nations, it was agreed would co-chair the Permanent Security Committee of the association with one of the other nations holding the deputy chair on a rotary basis every four years, their primary concern was checking or halting Great Power encroachments on the member states territories and fighting the various seagoing or airel pirate or rogue privateering groups that were still a significant problem for all of them (and even the Europeans for that matter) in Asian and the wider Pacific waters.

There had been much and not unreasonable debate on where to set up a headquarters and permanent meeting place for the association, which would be acceptable to all eight members. Honolulu many felt, including many Hawaiians, was too far away from many of the other members and there would be a significant time lag in dealing with routine or emergency situations even with the web like network of submarine telegraphic cables that criss crossed much of the Pacific Ocean or via even the speediest nautical or airel mail or despatch boats. The Japanese port city of Nagasaki had finally been settled upon after some lively debate, it was a well established trade port with a history of carrying out international trade and had prosperous commerical links and connections all over the world, which would be very advantageous to all eight of the association's member states. Further it was better placed for many of the nations, particular Siam, Laos, Brunei to reach in a convient time for meetings, true it was distant from Hawai'i, Samoa and Tonga, but that would have been true of almost any other port or city agreed upon, in any case.

Once Nagasaki had been decided upon, the idea had been put forward of forming a special monetary fund or bank of the association, that all eight members could access and use, which would useful for commerical or economic projects that were of benefit not only to the individual nations but also for interconnected projects that affected several members equally. Such a financial organization would also make it easier for member states to obtain funds via low interest loans and not have to rely on the financial institutions of the Great Powers, such as the Bank of France or the Bank of England to which they would normally have to turn.

Putting such a Bank on a working footing, from scratch would have been a considerable problem, both in organizing and providing with funds to make it a working concern. However, the idea had been so persuasive to the officials involved in the association negotiations that, they had worked hard to overcome the difficulties. The young emperor had even offered to place some of his own vast personal wealth at the bank's disposal which had surprised but pleased everyone involved in the negotiations. This offer had been matched by the Emperor of Japan, and by the Sultan of Brunei, easily the richest of the monarchs involved aside from himself. The Kings of Siam, Laos, Hawai'i and Tonga had also agreed to make a sizeable contribution within their respective means. The King of Samoa, had offered to assist but expressed concerns that the ongoing civil war and the post-war recovery meant, both his personal and his governmental funds were regrettably at a premium for purely Samoan use. It was agreed that they would contribute to the bank as circumstances allowed, in due course. With the monarchial funds provided, in addition to the funds put forth by seven of the eight nations, the Bank of the East Asian Association would be placed on a firm financial footing. Bonds sales to private individuals within each of the nations were also expected to add to the working capital of the Bank in due course.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Memories of Past Conventions 2024

A nice view of the CN Tower, Toronto Convention Center, Toronto Comic Con.

The floor of the North Building of the Toronto Convention Center, Toronto Comic Con.

Myself and Actor Denis Lawson, Toronto Comic Con.

Lord Hood and Professional Cosplayer Bamzy Cosplay, Toronto Comic Con.

Lord Hood and Professional Cosplayer Candy Cosplay, Toronto Comic Con..

Lord Hood in the custody of the Mandalorian Mercs (we will see how long this lasts...), Toronto Comic Con.

Lord Hood making his escape in the Tardis, Toronto Comic Con.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Memories of Past Conventions 2023

Sir Leo Worthing-Topper and Lord Hood, Fan Expo Toronto Convention.

A fantastic Steampunk costume, Fan Expo Toronto Convention.

Lord Hood and the Mandalorian Mercs, Fan Expo Toronto Convention.

Lord Hood and Professional Cosplayer LuckyGrim, Fan Expo Toronto Convention.

Sir Leo Worthing-Topper and Professional Cosplayer LuckyGrim, Fan Expo Toronto Convention.

Sir Leo Worthing-Topper and Professional Cosplayer Artyfakes (Tabitha Lyons), Fan Expo Toronto Convention.

Lord Hood with Professional Cosplayer Artyfakes (Tabitha Lyons), Fan Expo Toronto Convention.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

An Ending and A Beginning (Part II)

Artwork by Pelycosaur24

“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her; but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.” ― Voltaire

Hardly waiting to reload, the pioneer lunged over her prone form, slashing with his musket's fixed socket bayonet, at the now hideously shrieking wraith, which had caught the fired ball which had blazed from the weapon's muzzle like a flaming star much like her own pistol had previously done, to strike the creature just below what she figured was it's collar bone. Half rising, she lunged with her own sword in hand, and ran the creature nearly halfway through it's body. The pioneer stabbed his palely glittering bayonet home as well, into the wraith's hulking shoulder, seemingly killing it. It gave an eerie, wailing cry that sounded to Marie Luise like a soul being blasted into torment, and then it's body began to dissolve into what seemed to be clouds of smoke and sparkling, evil looking flecks of light before her astonished eyes.

Pausing only long enough to assist Marie Luise to her feet, the pioneer looked around quickly, finding no more of the wraiths immediate in sight, he then gestured for her to follow him. She needed no inducement to continue her hurried exit from the confines of the dangerous woods. The Ravens suddenly appeared and swooped protectively around her as she ran.

As the two dodged through the trees, both hurriedly worked to reload their firearms. The pioneer after what seemed like hours suddenly signaled her to halt, she listened but could hear nothing in the silent wood. Cautiously, he motioned to her to follow him towards and through a patch of glittering moonlight, that blazed through the dark forest canopy. She saw four human figures emerge from the woods beyond it, one of whom waved in greeting to the pioneer who nodded back affably.

Of the four approaching men, she realized, one was a soldier of antiquity, an ancient Greek hoplite armed with a great bronze shield and a long spear, the other was a heavily bearded Moscow Streltsy, armed with a saber, matchlock arquebus and bardiche of the reign of Ivan IV Grozny, known to the rest of Europe as Ivan the Terrible. The third and four figures that emerged into the clearing were also soldiers but their uniforms were utterly unfamiliar to Marie Luise, though the taller of the two, seemed to her to be from some eastern nation, the long beard and smart turban and a uniform of a light earth tone almost like the fawn brown once worn by the Austrian artillerymen, with brown leather equipment and a strange rifle of a design she had never seen before although it was fitted with a wickedly long sword bayonet. His dusky skin and fierce hawk like face and soldierly, disciplined air made her think of the fabulously wealthy and exotic Indian princes, that one of her more traveled relations had mentioned to her. The other was nearly her own height and grabbed in highly decorative armour, made of over lapping, lamellar plates with a broad helmet with an elaborate crest, his face half hidden by a leering demon mask suggested one of the kingdoms of still further distant Asia, though she wasn't sure enough to say which. He was armed with two gently curved swords on different lengths and a great bow of a style not found in Europe.

When they both entered the moonlight, Marie Luise watched as the Prussian pioneer ahead of her, suddenly rippled as the moonlight touched his body. His uniform became tattered and riddled with holes caused by bullets or shrapnel, she came to a complete stop in wordless alarm. The pioneer turned about when he noticed that she wasn't moving forward with him to join the others. His face withered under the moon's silvery light, his skin paled, became semi-transparent and flickered with pale light as if it was some sort of aurora borealis held tightly to his body. His skull, suddenly appeared as his face all but disappeared from view. Empty black eye sockets gazed at her. The pioneer realized what had happened by the stunned expression upon Marie Luise's face, and for the first time spoke aloud to her. The Pioneer was rather impressed that she hadn't screamed in fright or terror on seeing him. Made of sterner stuff then most new arrivals, this one, he thought.

"My apologies, if my true appearance gave you are start, milady. We're all like this here, in this Land of the Dead. The moonlight shows everyone as they really are and quite as often how they died in the first place. It also drives the wraiths away, they cannot bear it's light for any length of time." His voice was little more then a whisper although it seemed to echo in her mind, though the jaw of his skeletal face hardly seemed to move as he spoke.

Marie Luise suddenly pulled off one of her gloves, her hand trembled with horrified shock as she watched her skin and muscles of her hand fade and disappear to be replaced by a hand of moving bones. Unconsciously, her bared hand reached to her face. The Indian soldier, pulled a pocket mirror from a pale cloth satchel bag at his hip and passed it to her wordlessly, she took it and raised it to examine her own face. Marie Luise, felt horrified terror and fascination cannon through her as she gazed at the image reflected back at her, a human skull surrounded by wildly tousled, blonde hair which rose above her uniform collar.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

An Ending and A Beginning (Part I)

Artwork by Pelycosaur24

“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her; but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.” ― Voltaire

Consciousness slowly filtered back into Marie Luise's pain and death befuddled brain. The sounds, smells and sensations of the battlefield that had previously hammered her mind and physical senses were notable by their absence, her ears had been battered by the crash of artillery and the steady rattle of musketry, the blinding, bitter smoke, the flames and stench of sweat and death, the cacophony of shouted orders, screams and curses. She was surrounded by a terrible stillness, an unnatural quiet, her eyes flickered open and she tried to make sense of her surroundings. There were only two things she was at this moment sure of: the first was that it was was night, an unnatural darkness surrounded her. The other was the equally unnatural and eerie quietude, there was no sound of anything at all in her immediate surroundings, no cry or noise made by man or animal, not even the movement of air. Was, she dead or merely dreaming, Marie Luise wondered to herself.

Marie Luise, tried to move her limbs, she felt stiff and numbingly cold, the enveloping darkness did not help her, though she was beginning to take in her surroundings more clearly. She realized with some surprise, that she was laying in a small clearing, or rather a small gap between the trees of a considerable forest. The trees moved gently, as if possessed of some animation all their own, their leaves and branches quivered as if moved by an unseen and unheard wind, though she felt nothing. A glimmer of moon light began to slowly filter through the tree limbs and branches, dimly illuminating her surroundings. Marie Luise, realized as she sat up with some awkwardness, that she was not alone. Two pairs of black eyes, flickered at her from the branches above her head and a third set gazed intently at her from near her elbow. With a start she realized that the three dark shapes were a group of extremely large, jet black ravens.

Marie Luise, struggled to her knees, studying the ravens, which gazed at her with unnaturally brilliant black eyes, like black diamonds. Ravens were a symbol of death and bad luck or ill omen, but they were also the ancient heraldic symbol of her house. Ravens often represent ancient wisdom, intelligence and transformation. They were spectral messengers of the gods, bearers of untold visions, dreams and prophetic whispers. In the annals of mythology and folklore, these ebony enigmas inhabited a realm where mystic symbols intertwine with human imagination. Perhaps Marie Luise, thought to herself, she was in such a realm now. The one, beside her hopped forward inquisitively, it's beak opened in a silent call. Tentatively she reached a gloved hand out towards it, the bird did not flinch or pull away when her fingers brushed it. If fact it seemed pleased to have her do so. Ravens were often harbingers or messengers in folklore, Marie Luise wondered if the ravens, were sent to welcome her to this place.

Suddenly the raven, beneath her fingers, froze it's beak snapped open in a silent hiss, without a sound it took to the it's wings, something had spooked it. Marie Luise, turned on her knees, trying to force her stiff limbs to action to come to her feet, a presentiment of danger filled her. Something strange and evil was near at hand both her instincts and her brain screamed to her. The two ravens in the tree branches seemed to be silently screaming a warning at her, something flickered at the corner of her eye. A dark, malevolent shadow moved, this one darker then anything she had ever seen before, dominated by two ravenous and eerie eyes, two motes of hateful and malice filled light peered at her from the trees. The dark, shadowy thing came at her with stunning speed, she caught a glimpse of long limbs and terrible claw like hands, grasping for her, she barely managed to dodge out the way in time.

An icy, choking fog followed the creature's movements, seeping across the ground and swirling around the trunks of the trees. Marie Luise, dodged two more vicious lunges by the thing, as much by instinct as anything else. Fumbling for anything she might use as a weapon against the thing that stalked her, her hand hand fell absently upon, the leather holster case at her right hip. Marie Luise realized that her sidearms was still upon her person, and drew the double-barreled dueling pistol contained within the holster, without thinking, cocked the double hammers and took deliberate aim at the shadow that stalked her, the moonlight had dimmed almost to nothingness, so she had only it's glimmering eyes to aim by, and the warning movements of the ravens which circled her.

Marie Luise, lined up the double barrels and put the glowing eyes between the hammers and pulled the trigger, with swift but deliberate precision. She had no idea if the pistol would have the slightest effect on the shadowy creature. The pistol kicked back in her hand, the muzzle flamed into the darkness with an unearthly brilliance that almost blinded her, although to her astonishment there was no report of the discharge against her ears. The pistol ball, which glowed like a bright night time star as it left the barrel, slammed into creature, which shrieked aloud in bafflement, rage and pain as the bullet struck home against what she thought was it's chest. The creature's outcry was the first sound she had heard since awaking in this strange forest, the sound rattled off and around the black tree trunks and rustled the leaves, Marie Luise paused only long enough to fire off the second barrel, directly into the thing's face, then turned and fled as quickly as she could, the wings of the three ravens fluttered around her and their stringent cries, urged her on.

Marie Luise needed no urging in any case, the forest was now alive with sounds, that had been for some reason suppressed, the echoing report of the two shots from her Nock pattern dueling pistol, echoed back and forth amid the trees, mixing with the frantic cries of the ravens, and the soul shuddering shrieks of agony from the wraith that lay writhing on the ground behind her. She ran pell-mell, narrowly dodging left and right to get through the trees, with the only thought of getting out of this oppressive and shadowy forest as quickly as she could driving her in headlong retreat, the ravens winged ahead of her, seeming to act as guides in the trackless shadows and darkness.

Marie Luise had no idea how much distance she had covered, in the eternal darkness and seething cold, the forest seemed to be endless, she felt something like despair gripping her, something banged heavily against her hip as she ran, she suddenly realized it was her sword. With no time to reload her pistol, she hurriedly drew it even as she continued to run, a sudden instinct warned her she might need it before she found her way clear of the forest. Marie Luise, surprisingly felt rather more cheerful with it in her hand, it was a good blade, and had served her in victory and defeat since it had been presented her by Feldmarschall Aleksandr Vasilyevich Suvorov as a token of his and the Russian Imperial Army's respect and esteem. She had no idea what effect it would have on the wraith like creature she had just shot, but if the pistol worked with some effect she thought, then it was within the realm of the possible that the sword would also be effective, perhaps more so, as it had been twice blessed by priests of the Russian Orthodox Catholic and the Austrian Roman Catholic churches.

The warning screams or caws of the ravens, brought her thoughts suddenly back to the present with a jolt. Two of the Ravens veered away to the left, and flew hard into the face of a new wraith, that had emerged from between two sprawling trees, their razor sharp beaks and talons, raking the creature's face and up raised arms as it tried to ward them off. A second wraith emerged from a blanket of swirling mist and fog from a shallow ravine on her left, the third raven flew at it like a black missile aiming for it's glowing eyes. She took a running slash at the evil wraith before her with her sword, as she jumped across the narrow ravine to get clear of it. The blade, which began glowing with a strange, spectral light all it's own, passed straight through the out stretched wrist and then the eyes of the wraith, which promptly blasted her ears with it's scream of agony as it lost both a clawed hand and it's sight in the same moment.

Abruptly Marie Luise's flight came to an end, as one of her booted feet became entangled in a gnarled tree root emerging from the dark soils and scattered patches of turf. She pitched headlong into the ground in a tangle of limbs as she struggled to regain her footing. Her sword slipped and threatened to bounce from her hand as she fell, but stayed near at hand courtesy of the fist strap she had slipped over her wrist when she had first drawn it. A heavily black booted foot abruptly and without warning hit the ground before her, and she rolled to see who or what it belonged to. To her astonishment she found herself looking upwards at a Prussian pioneer, though his dress was of the Army of Friedrich der Gro├če not that of the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm III, which she was more familiar with. In the glimmer of reflected moonlight, she caught sight of the figure's head, face wrapped in shadow, which tipped downwards to look at her with a surprised curiousity equal to her own, then the metal fronted, rounded pioneer mitre snapped upward and the Royal Prussian army flintlock musket grasped in the pioneer's hands snapped upwards toward the wielder's shoulder and blazed to life, aimed at a newly arrived wraith that was almost on top of both of them.